Lazio have moved joint-top of Serie A with a 3-1 home win over Inter Milan which plunged the Italian football champions and coach Rafael Benitez into a fresh crisis after the worst of their problems seemed to have passed.
Giuseppe Biava bundled the ball home midway through the first half and Argentine forward Mauro Zarate struck with a lob early in the second period to show that the early season form of last term's relegation candidates was no false dawn.
The visitors pulled a goal back through ex-Lazio forward Goran Pandev after a couple of rebounds but in-form Brazilian Hernanes sealed victory in style with a minute remaining.
Sixth-placed Inter, whose hopes of a sixth straight scudetto already look remote, could slip 10 points behind AC Milan after just 15 games if their city rivals win at home to promoted Brescia tomorrow and retake top spot outright.
A recent wobble by Lazio had pundits suggesting their resurgence was over but a confident performance against the treble winners will have tongues wagging again about whether Edy Reja's Rome-based side can last the pace in the title battle.
The match was Inter's last in Serie A this year ahead of their participation in the Club World Cup and the pressure is back on Benitez after wins against Twente Enschede and Parma had seemed to secured his position after a shaky spell.
Injury-hit Inter, who saw Dejan Stankovic limp off in the first half and were also without suspended top scorer Samuel Eto'o, played youth team defender Felice Natalino at right back while midfielder Sulley Muntari returned from a layoff.
They again lacked fluency and the only bright spot was the previously struggling Pandev breaking his season's duck as the boos rang out around the half-full Stadio Olimpico.